To investigate catecholamine regulation of adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and vasopressin (VP) release, the relationship of alpha-adrenergic receptor-binding sites to corticotropin-releasing factor (CRF) and VP-containing cell populations within the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) of the hypothalamus was studied. Immunohistochemistry for CRF and neurophysin-vasopressin (NP-VP) was combined with receptor autoradiography. The adrenergic antagonist [3H]-prazosin was used to visualize alpha-1-binding sites and the agonist [3H]-p-aminoclonidine to visualize alpha-2-binding sites. To determine if changes in adrenergic binding accompanied experimentally induced increased activity of CRF- and VP-containing neurons, adrenalectomy was used as a stimulus for CRF release and dehydration as a stimulus for VP release. Quantitative assessment of autoradiograms revealed a greater density of alpha-1- and alpha-2-binding sites over the medial, parvocellular, CRF-containing region of PVN as compared to the lateral, magnocellular, NP-VP-containing region of the nucleus in all animal groups. Following 10 days of dehydration, the density of alpha-1- and alpha-2-binding sites associated with the CRF- and NP-VP-containing regions of PVN decreased. At 14 days postadrenalectomy the density of alpha-2-binding sites associated with CRF-and NP-VP containing regions of the nucleus decreased, but the density of alpha-1-binding sites was unchanged. Results of this study support the hypothesis that epinephrine and/or norepinephrine regulate the release of ACTH and vasopressin via alpha-1- and alpha-2-adrenergic receptors associated with CRF- and VP-containing somata within the PVN.